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By Brad Cook | May 5, 2009

Prequels are tricky endeavors, because your audience knows more or less how the story will turn out. So your job is to somehow make them still care about what happens to the characters, even if they still know the outcomes, who lives and who dies. While the “Star Wars” prequels fell into contrivance and a paint-by-numbers feel to the storytelling, “Caprica” expands the universe created for the new “Battlestar Galactica” by placing new characters beside familiar ones and staying within the gray zone that made the previous series so engaging.

Unfortunately, “Caprica” also has a tendency to feel like “One Tree Hill in Space,” given its young stars who play stereotypically petulant teenagers who turn in mediocre performances to boot. The adults, played by Esai Morales (as Bill Adama’s father Joseph) and Eric Stoltz (as new character Daniel Graystone), balance the kids a bit with richer characterization and much better acting. But after watching this 90-minute debut episode, I’m not sure where the focus will shift when the series kicks into gear in 2010. If it focuses more on the kids, it could be a disaster, but if it delves more into the adults’ world, particularly Joseph Adama’s more textured family life, it could be one heck of a series.

Of course, I doubt Joseph Adama will be the focus, since Daniel Graystone is an engineering genius whose company develops Cylon technology, with a little help from Adama’s thug brother, Sam. That project becomes intertwined with the awful loss of family members experienced by both men: Graystone’s daughter and Adama’s wife and daughter are all killed by a terrorist suicide bombing. The question “What makes a human?” – which played such a prominent role in “Battlestar Galactica” – becomes a dominant theme in this premiere episode.

Since the episode ends on an open-ended note, it’s tough to give it a complete assessment. Trying to look at it as a whole, however, I’d say it’s mostly an uneven effort, with some moments that miss their mark and others that offer engaging drama. No single scene, though, hits the emotional highs of the many great moments scattered throughout the four seasons of “Battlestar Galactica,” and the only character I found interesting was Joseph Adama, whereas “Galactica” was packed with intriguing players.

Yes, it’s unfair to measure “Caprica” against a series that captured lightning in a bottle, but the comparisons are inevitable, particularly since this show should end in a way that perfectly sets up “Galactica.” However, I’m happy to give this series a chance when it debuts.

The bonus features on this disc are pretty scant, since Universal and Sci-Fi Channel decided to include an episode of “Ghost Hunters,” for whatever reason. It eats up about 43 minutes of video, so there isn’t much room left for the more relevant material.

First, we have seven minutes of deleted scenes that are presented without context. Some of them reveal important plot points, so I imagine that the creators wanted to save them for a later episode, but it would have been nice to know the thought process. There are also four very brief video blogs that don’t impart much interesting information but contain an inadvertently funny moment when Alessandra Toressani, who plays Zoe Graystone, says that the planet Caprica is “just like Earth, but in space.” Wow, thanks for the insight.

Finally, producers Ron Moore (who also co-wrote this episode) and David Eick, along with director Jeffrey Reiner, get together for a commentary track that’s worth a listen. The three of them discuss the choices made and why, along with production anecdotes; rarely does the conversation lapse into silence. But Moore and Eick, of course, are veterans of this sort of thing from “Galactica.” Let’s see how they make out in the new territory.

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